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The Modern Day Promised Land

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When we arrived in Tel Aviv it had a very modern and liberal feel, especially in comparison to Jerusalem. After departing the bus station we made our way to the Florentine district which is supposedly the upcoming artsy/bohemian neighborhood. Our first day was spent walking all over the city and taking in the humanity. We walked through the markets and shopping districts with a stop in a mall for a movie (The Ides of March – pretty good). We also had a fabulous lunch at “Benedicts”. The restaurant chain serves breakfast 24-hours a day American style and has the classics such as Eggs Benedict and chocolate chip pancakes – yum! I tell you what – life is not bad when you are eating Eggs Benedict and drinking champagne on a Tuesday at 3 pm!
IMG_9948.jpg Our feast at Benedicts!
On our second day out in Tel Aviv we headed to the beach for some sun. The city is set on the Mediterranean and from the beach we had some great views the city. We ended our day on a high note with dinner at Choco-Lulu. They bring out your pasta on a giant wheel of parmesan cheese, mix it all around, and then put it back on your plate with the sauce of your choice- it was ridiculously good. Plus, they had gelato for dessert and you can’t just walk away from that! We enjoyed our two days in Tel Aviv a lot and were really impressed with the city itself and the people. The city has a European feel to it and is really very trendy, and everyone speaks English.
IMG_9966.jpg Tel Aviv view from the beach
IMG_9977.jpg Dinner at Choco-Lulu and the giant Parmesan wheel
Renting a car in Israel is surprisingly affordable, so we went that route to explore the northern part of the country. It is so strange- they drive like us (right side of the road, driver on the left, obeying traffic laws), but we are so screwed up from Africa and the rest of the Middle East (left side of the road, driver on the right, what traffic laws?), nothing feels natural anymore. We had to constantly remind ourselves what side of the road to drive on. We stopped initially in Caerasara to view some Roman ruins, but the weather was uncooperative, so we quickly headed on to Haifa. Haifa is situated on the Mediterranean and the city slopes all the way down Mt. Carmel into a busy industrial port. Their big claim to fame is the Baha’i Garden which takes up an enormous space in the center of town and is spectacularly beautiful (even in the rain). I myself have never had an eye for gardens or gardening, but you have to be impressed by the perfection of the grounds.
IMG_0015.jpg The Baha'i Gardens in Haifa leading down to the shrine
IMG_0080.jpg More of the Baha'i Gardens
After spending the night in the small fortified city of Akko, we headed inland to travel around the Sea of Galilee. The area around Galilee is lush and surprisingly reminiscent of Tuscany. It is particularly known to be the area of Jesus’ most influential ministry and where he recruited many of his famous apostles. We spent time in Tiberius, a city on the sea, and went to several historic sites from the life of Jesus.
IMG_0060.jpg In the escape tunnel in Akko
IMG_0066.jpg Akko
IMG_0203.jpg This church is built on what was thought to have been Jesus' home while in Galilee
IMG_0243.jpg A view of the Sea of Galilee (it's actually below sea level)
We also drove to the far north of the country along the border with Syria, commonly known as the Golan Heights. The area is chalk full history and has been heavily disputed over the last century. During the Six Day War in the late 60’s, Israel captured the area from Syria and expelled 90% of the inhabitants, only to have Syria unsuccessfully attempt to recapture it in the 70’s. Thus, the area continues to be a sore subject for Syria and will likely be an important factor in any peace accord between Israel and Syria. Despite sharing a border, the countries do not currently have diplomatic relations and it is virtually impossible for a tourist with an Israel stamp in his or her passport to visit Syria (or Lebanon).
The Golan Heights boasts some beautiful scenery so we completed a few hikes. We stopped at Banias Nature Reserve to see their famous waterfall as well as the remains of a former temple complex. A short drive away was Nimrod Castle which is set fairytale style on a hilltop. It is a very well preserved Crusader castle and, because of its location, had some beautiful vistas. Our last stop before heading back to Tel Aviv was the Gamla Nature Reserve which is set amongst canyons with a view of the Sea of Galilee. The ruins in the reserve come with a fascinating story: the small town of Gamla was located on a steep hilltop surrounded by ravines and during its time was a Jewish stronghold. When the Romans came to capture the town, rather than be conquered, almost all 5,000 residents dramatically leapt to their death. Only two women survived to pass the story on to those who came after. You can almost feel the story come to life when you’re there and standing on the end of the ravine.
IMG_0122.jpg At the waterfall in Banias
IMG_0148.jpg Nimrod Castle
IMG_0173.jpg Another view of Nimrod and the surrounding hills
IMG_0217.jpg A view from Gamla- really georgous
IMG_0224.jpg The top of the ruins in Gamla
That ended our tour of the northern part of Israel, so we headed back to Tel Aviv to get ready for our flight to Istanbul. We had to stop at Choco-Lulu for dinner a second time- it was that good! We’ll write more when we get to Turkey!

Posted by geldere 23:44 Archived in Israel

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